Right now, I’m going to show you how to nature journal using the “collection” technique. This is one of the basic nature journaling approaches. You can use it even if you are just getting started with nature journals. Experienced nature journalers will also benefit from this technique.
The basic idea is simple. You are out walking in a nearby park. You brought your nature journal but don’t know where to start. There are birds everywhere, there are wildflowers, and you also notice tons of lichen on the trees. “This is kind of overwhelming!” You think to yourself. “I only have 20 minutes for nature journaling.” What should you do?
How to Nature Journal a Collection
First, you need to choose the category for your collection. The category can be taxonomical, such as plants in the sunflower family (asteraceae), or a collection of warblers. The category could also be “things growing on other things.” In this case you would “collect” lichens, mosses, epiphytes, or fungus.
Second, think about your page organization. Do you want to divide your paper up into squares right away? How do you want to organize the individual subjects of your collection?
Third, think about how much time you have and how in depth you want to get with each subject of your collection. If you start off putting in a ton of information and details with the first few subjects and then simplify dramatically with the last few it will look bad.
Fourth, start drawing and nature journaling the individual subjects. Use words, images, and numbers for each one. Try to keep a consistent style to facilitate comparison and make the collection look better.
Nature journaling is more than a hobby. It is more than an art form. In fact it is a way of seeing the world. Whether you are nature journaling at home or going on an extreme adventure it can add meaning to your life. Join me tonight as I forsake the comfort of my home to bring a nature journal adventure to you!
I saw that the tides were going to be very low right after sunset. I wrote it down in my calendar with indelible ink. This would be my only chance all month. If I really wanted to nature journal nocturnal inter-tidal zone again I had to do it. However, as the day got closer the weather forecast did not look good. They were predicting strong winds, cold temperatures, and a big swell on the ocean. Would I give up now? Instead of giving up I used a classic accountability strategy. I invited a friend. Not only was I accountable to another person but it would also be safer and more fun.
In addition to bringing a friend, having the right gear will make or break your nature journal adventure. Below, I share the gear that has helped me the most. If you click on the links to shop for these items I will get a small percentage to support my work.
Best Gear for Nature Journaling at Night
Binder Clips: These are one of my most essential art and nature journaling tools! Without them I would not have been able to nature journal in the windy conditions, my paper would warp with watercolor, etc. I usually try to have four of them in my field kit and four at my desk in my studio. You can buy an 8 pack here.
Book Light: It is helpful to have two sources of light when nature journaling at night. One is directed always at your paper and one you can direct at your subject or make sure you are not about to step into a deep hole full of sea urchins. A book light that clips onto your journal is useful for many other things as well. I use them as a reading light at home and whenever I go on a nature journal expedition or camping. I can’t find the one I have online but this is a similar one.
I’m also interested in experimenting with a book light that hangs around your neck such as this one. If you try it out let me know how it works.
Have you ever had a big birding day or a big year? Christina Baal’s plan is to see and draw all 10,000 birds on the planet! In this talk she describes how she got into birding, her mission, and how combining art and birding improves both!
Are you a birder? If so, then you are familiar with the desire to add more birds to your life list. Obviously, there is something very fun about “collecting” new birds. There is a powerful pleasure response when we see a new species for the first time. Many of us birders have goals, we have aspirations, we plan birding trips onto our family vacations. However, few of us set our sights as high as Christina Baal.
Birding Abroad or Birding at Home?
Christina has been bird-watching in some exotic places. And to complete her list there are still many more places to go. Despite this fact one of her favorite places to bird-watch is around her home. Indeed, the Northeastern United States can be a birding wonderland during the spring migration. Christina eloquently describes it:
One of the most magical things for me is to step out the door in the first week of May when all the wood warblers are just coming in. Everything is singing, all the flowers are out, and it smells amazing. And you just walk out and the world is pulsing around you. And there are just wonderful blobs of color everywhere.
Botanical art and nature journaling are essential to how Dion Dior makes meaning of the world. She shares some of her pages, favorite supplies, and technical tips in this talk. In addition she describes the huge privilege and responsibility that nature journalers have. Don’t miss the lightning round!
Dion lives in Noosa, Queensland Australia. She nature journals for herself as well as teaching and leading a local nature journal club. The Noosa Nature Journal Club holds free monthly classes in the Sunshine Coast area.
The Noosa Nature Journal Club is based in the Noosaville Area and is open to anyone with a passion for exploring nature with a field journal.We are a community of nature lovers and artists of all levels who meet to connect, record and appreciate the beautiful natural environments of the Sunshine Coast and beyond
Start With a Leaf
As a result of her teaching experience Dion has noticed that people are often overwhelmed in nature. “Where should I start?” Starting with a leaf is an antidote to this. Therefore Dion just tells people to pick up a leaf.
Botanical Art and Nature Journaling Begins with a Leaf
First of all, leaves are accessible and can be found almost anywhere there are people.
Secondly, leaves provide many avenues of investigation when we look at them carefully.
Thirdly,they provide many fun artistic challenges.
Last but significantly leaves are limited in their scope. A leaf once separated from the plant is a circumscribed subject. It is manageable.
Dion Uses Multiple Journals
Another thing that was interesting to learn was how Dion uses multiple sketchbooks and journals for different purposes.You probably know my thoughts about keeping multiple journals. If not, check out this post called “One Journal to Rule Them All.”
She has at least four different nature journals. One is made with nicer watercolor paper. This journal is mostly for botanical art. Dion mostly uses it at home when she is building her skills as an illustrator. She also has one that is dedicated to practice. She does not worry about what the pages looks like. This book is for fun and learning.
Join me on a nature journal adventure with my friend and fellow nature journaler JP! It was Superbowl Sunday but we decided to nature journal instead. We saw a dead whale, we saw mergansers, and we even saw a crawdad and cliff-growing succulents.
Just Start Somewhere
Nature journaling in a new element is not easy. I made a whole video about how to nature journal from a kayak and I am still not totally comfortable. You will see how I struggle even getting started when you watch the video. I paddle around looking for a better angle. What should I draw? Where should I park my kayak? Should I nature journal from the shore?
“Start before you’re ready.”
The most important thing is to just get your journal out and start getting something down on the page. Getting started can be especially hard under the following nature journal adventure circumstances:
You are not physically comfortable
The environment is distracting
There are too many options to nature journal
You are worried about your materials getting lost or damaged
The art supplies you usually use are not conducive to the adventure
The best solution to all these problems is to clarify your intentions before you go, simplify your materials, and start making marks on your page as soon as possible.
Birding and nature journaling should be an obvious match. That’s because you will be more observant, patient, and full of wonder if you do both. You could take my word for it. However, you could also hear it from the mouth of Timothy Joe. Tim has loved nature and art since a young age. In addition to birding he practices nature journaling, watercolor and gouache painting, oil painting, and pastels. In this live conversation we talk about his art, we talk about how racism has affected his experience, and we talk about how we can move forward as a nature journaling community.
I first found out about Timothy Joe from his Instagram where I saw one of his posts under the hashtag #naturejournaling. In addition to his artwork he also posts about his classes on Instagram. I saw that he was teaching a “Birds and Nature Art Journaling” class. Pretty soon, I was scrolling through a bunch of his other artwork.
Besides birds Tim also does a lot of rural landscapes, especially those that contain historic buildings. Similarly to nature journaling Tim finds joy and meaning in researching and sharing the background story of these buildings. For him, the story is as important as the visual which is demonstrated in the following quote from his artist statement.
Everyday things that usually would not get a second glance can become beautiful works of art. There is a message in every scene, whether it is a location, personal belonging, or building. There are so many beautiful subjects that should have its place on my canvas or any other painting surface. My mission is to capture these hidden treasures before time erases them completely.
Why Aren’t All Birders Nature Journaling?
With all these obvious benefits you might wonder why don’t all birders also nature journal?
First of all, many birders have never heard of nature journaling.
Second, many are in too big a hurry to stop and sketch. They just want to check off more life birds.
They are too focused on using all their energy to learn bird names and see more birds and be more hardcore birders.
Finally and significantly, birders are very emotionally attached to their subject and that makes them afraid to try to draw them. Compared to the precision of photography their early sketches of birds could feel awkward. Since they love their subject so much they want to do it justice.
Birding and Nature Journaling While Black
Timothy shared his experience and perspective as a black man in predominantly white hobbies and the outdoors. Later in the conversation we talked about positive ways to make these hobbies and the outdoors more welcoming. The first challenge for him when doing birding or going to an art event is looking around at the other participants. He is often the only black man. He has to reassure himself and the other participants that he is meant to be there. Sometimes they ask if he is lost. He often gets second glances. Just because of the color of his skin. This would be enough to make many of us give up. However, Tim has developed a protocol that he follows.
How to Nature Journal While Black
Show Off Your Supplies. Tim always makes sure he is wearing an artist’s apron, has his easel out and all his art or birding stuff very visible. This type of flagging shows off what his intentions are. Many black birders follow similar rules and try to make it extra obvious that they are birding. This is unfair and should not be necessary but many people in the USA are consciously or unconsciously prejudiced to be suspicious of black people walking around. This is no joke-innocent black people have been killed because of this. As a husband and a father Tim does worry about his safety.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. Birders and nature journalers and landscape painters are supposed to be observant. If you are black in the USA you have to be even more observant. Tim tries to pay attention to where he is and what is going on with the people around him.
Choose Your Locations Carefully. Unfortunately, there are locations that Tim would love to paint but feel too unsafe. Certain rural areas or locations that are too out of the way. He has to choose not to go to these places. Black birders have shared this as well.
Obviously, neither Dr Drew Lanham nor Timothy Joe should have to feel like they have to follow rules just to do what they love. Even if they do follow these rules it is possible they will be harassed or worse such as the incident with Chris Cooper in Central Park.
Birding and Nature Tours at the Joe Farm
Timothy shared about his family’s farm and all the accessible nature to be had there. They have birding events, wheelchair access, and art events. I want to go some day! Find out more at their website.
I have been bad. I have avoided this for five years. Now I need to do five years worth of journal organization in one morning! Since the cameras are live I can’t back down. In fact, I can barely stop for a snack.
“Maybe this was a bad idea” I think to myself after 3 hours of non-stop talking and organizing. All I have eaten is half a brownie. Not that many people are even watching the live broadcast. “What is the point of organizing all my journals anyways!”
Why Journal Organization Matters
First of all, there is the pleasure. If you are the kind of person that likes journaling you probably also get a weird pleasure from organization-even when it hurts. You know who you are. There is that warm tingly feeling when you look at a tidy shelf full of chronologically stacked journals. Everything in its place. It’s worth it. Despite the fact that you cried and bit your nails in the process. You might even be the kind of person that organizes as you go. Regardless it is a victory against the forces of chaos.
Next, there is the practicality. My journals used to look fine on the shelf but I could never find anything when I needed it. Now that they are organized I can easily reference them and put them back. Writing a series of numbers on the front cover made a much easier system.
Last of all, think about your legacy. I am only half joking. Someday, someone (besides you) is going to have to deal with all of your journals. If you are a serious journaler that could be a herculean task. This poor future individual deserves some pity, no matter how fascinating your journals are. Therefore, you should get your journals into some kind of organizational system.
If you read this far about journal organization then you probably would be interested in systems for indexing your journal! If you actually watched me organizing my journals live for 5 hours then you might enjoy watching me index one of my journals here.
Mariia Ermilova Terada shows us how to nature journal biocultural diversity. Not only does she nature journal in three languages but she also incorporates the human-nature connection into her pages. In contrast, most nature journalers today omit this relationship. For example, I often choose nature subjects where I cannot see the human interaction. I frequently exclude hikers, benches, telephone poles from my landscape paintings. Another example is that I rarely nature journal my garden, my salad, or the other aspects of nature my life is directly dependent on.
In addition, we talk about Mariia’s studies, her love of frogs, fabric arts, and the role nature journaling can play in making the world a better place. Don’t miss the lightning round!
How to Nature Journal Your Breakfast
Did you nature journal the plants and animals that you ate for breakfast today? What about the plants or animals that made your clothes? Have you ever included the indigenous names for plants or animals on your page? If nature journaling is supposed to connect us more to nature why do we often avoid the subjects we are most closely connected to?
In the above example we can see how Mariia applies nature journaling to an everyday scene. Her neighbor caught a fish and is cooking it. This nature journal page captures that subsistence relationship. In addition she gives the name of the fish in three languages and points out how it is an invasive species. The combination of comic, recipe, and species profile give this page a biocultural significance. In contrast, Mariia could have just nature journaled a random butterfly. “What’s wrong with nature journaling a random butterfly?” In fact, there is nothing wrong with choosing a subject just because of an aesthetic interest. But let’s be self aware. Why don’t we nature journal what we eat?
How to Nature Journal Biocultural Diversity
First, be curious about local traditional knowledge about nature in the area where you are. What culture has been living there? What was their relationship to the plants and animals and landscapes you are drawing? Is there a way you can recognize and incorporate some of that into your journal? However, be aware of the issue of cultural appropriation.
Second, be curious about cultural context. Even the magnolia in your garden, the chicken in your soup, or your house cat have a cultural context. Even a quick search on google could find some cool background. What if you included a map, names in other languages, or historic references next to that sketch of your feline or flower?
Finally, what are some biocultural connections from your own life? You can also try to nature journal some of the aspects of your own life that are connected to nature. What plants, animals, fungi, minerals etc do you relate to on a daily basis?
Drawing old trees is one of my favorites! I’m gonna show you how to nature journal old trees; in this case a charismatic old oak tree. I’ll use ink, watercolor, and graphite pencil to draw a portrait of the tree, sketch the basic scene, illustrate lea, and depict some of the moss. I will also talk about other nature journaling techniques and watercolor tips.
It was a cold January day in the mountains of Northern California. The weather forecast predicted snow later that day. Despite the cold and my low energy I knew this was my only chance. Because if it snowed I would be stuck up here and unable to get home to edit this video for you.
It’s at times like these where you need a system.
How to Nature Journal Old Trees in 5 Steps
Firstly, start with metadata. Always start with metadata: location, date, time, weather, etc
Next, simplify the complex. Old trees fascinate us partly because of their complexity. You need to simplify or you will be overwhelmed. Starting with thumbnails and using a viewfinder will help enormously.
Next, zoom in on details. What are some details you can add? Try drawing the leaves, the flowers, the seeds.
Lastly, don’t settle with just a portrait. It is very fun to paint the portrait of a tree. However, that is not really nature journaling. Try to incorporate some notes, some measurements, some contextual information or diagrams. Did any birds visit? What does the bark look like closeup? Adding these perspectives will enrich your page and your experience.
Do you know how to nature journal from your window? This nature journaling technique is useful on cold, snowy, or rainy days. It is also useful during global pandemics or if you can not get outside for other reasons.
Do you ever not feel motivated to nature journal? Do you ever feel down in the winter? I feel those things too despite what you might think from my video persona. Luckily, nature journaling makes me feel better regardless of how low energy or depressed I’m feeling. I didn’t want to make this live episode. I had a lot of self doubt about whether I had the right “energy” to nature journal. That’s why I started and ended with a gratitude exercise. Because your mindset is the foundation of your nature journaling and your life.
How to Nature Journal From Your Window in 3 Steps
Set the Stage: You want to do this more than once. Therefore you need to find a good location.
First, it should be convenient. A gorgeous view is nice but if you are teetering at the top of a stairwell it is not worth it. Also consider your family movements. Where will you be disturbed the least? The less energy to initiate a session the better. If you have to move a ton of furniture each time forget it.
Second, it should be consistent. This way you get into a habit more easily.
Last, consider the view. Is there a variety of stuff to see?
Set Your Expectations: Ok, maybe this should have been first. Create realistic expectations and clarify your goals around nature journaling from the window. I strongly recommend input based goals not output based goals. For example, “I will nature journal from my window for 15 minutes every day.” In contrast “I will paint a pretty sunset in watercolor every day.”Which of these goals is more achievable?